Last.FM: a couple of small criticisms

December 10, 2007

Image of Last.FM logo

I wake up after falling asleep on the sofa sometime around 8pm and it’s now 2 o’clock in the morning. Davis is curled up on the armchair opposite and there’s just the ticking of the clock in the near darkness to keep me company. I’m now not sleepy enough to head upstairs and don’t want to disturb Is by being unable to sleep, so in hopes of tiring myself out, I tippy-tap the following…

Much as I love to check on my Last.FM page (sad, but true), there are a couple of key pieces of data that it appears to fail to capture which has the effect of failing to accurately reflect listening habits. With its focus upon artists and tracks it doesn’t reflect my recent habit of listening to compilations such as the Fonotone Records collection of bluegrass/old-time music or my own iTunes pop mixes. This is because each of these feature a large number of different artists, only a small number of which might appear way down in the lower reaches of my ‘Top Artists – Overall’ list or briefly show in the ‘Weekly Top Artists’. If Last.FM captured album information and published similar charts as it does for Artists and Tracks, it would better reflect what I’m actually listening to and make more accurate recommendations. Similarly, because it fails to register track length, Last.FM promotes my listening to the brief, piano fragments of Prokofiev’s Visions Fugitives or the blink-and-it’s-gone, thrash-core of Naked City at the cost of the drawn-out minimal techno of Fluxion or the frozen tundra-scapes of Thomas Koner. The amount of time I spend listening to the latter may well exceed the former, but the Last.FM methodology favours brevity and quantity.

Image of Pandora recommendation window

While I’m on the subject, I tried out Pandora, Last.FM’s human-input counterpart (“Each friend told us their favorite artists and songs, explored the music we suggested, gave us feedback, and we in turn made new suggestions. Everybody started joking that we were now their personal DJs.”). This was a recommendation via the inestimable Dan Hill whose excellent New Music Experiences – which is just my cup of tea, though I’ve yet to finish it. However, I’m not impressed by it so far as, in response to my declared taste for Kraftwerk it suggests Throbbing Gristle, Front 242, David Carretta and Paul Van Dyk. These seem painfully US-centric in their (mis-)interpretation. Then I try creating a new station and entering Erik Satie as my first step, after indicating that he’s an artist rather than a song name I’m asked ‘Did you want the artist Erik Sanko?’. When I respond ‘No, search again’, I’m returned to a blank search box. Third time lucky, I try for Rhythm & Sound, I’m suggested Rhythm Masters… er, no thank you. Same goes for Prokofiev and Sergei Prokofiev. I have better luck with King Tubby, though I don’t like Pandora’s assessment that one of the music’s characteristics was “meandering melodic development”. Ultimately though, I don’t find most recommendations very useful and prefer to rely upon a mixture of intuition and personal research or friends’ recommendations.

[Originally published on A Personal Miscellany]

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Last.fm: excellent concert notification

February 13, 2007

Screenshot of last.fm gig screen

I recently posted about iConcertCal, a free iTunes plug-in that sought to provide notification of concerts based upon the iTunes library. Last night, I was clicking around my Last.fm account and stumbled upon its own concert notification system. Very nice it is too.

It’s very Web 2.0 as all of the concert listings are user-generated. Users can enter concert details and indicate whether they’re attending or on visiting other users’ pages and spotting an already listed gig can join to be displayed as attending. Gigs are displayed in the left sidebar under ‘Events’ of users’ chart pages. Last.fm makes concert recommendations based upon your – and your musical neighbours’ – listening habits. Tick boxes allow users to choose from one or more of the following choices: ‘Events I’m attending’, ‘Friends’ Events’, ‘Recommended Events (based on my profile + location)’ and ‘All Events Near Me’. With all but the last criteria selected, I’m shown an impressive selection of concerts, many of which I wasn’t aware of, but would consider attending (John Cale, Lee Scratch Perry, 4hero, Theatre of Hate, Adrian Sherwood and Manu Dibango to name but a few). There are a few misses – the prospect of seeing The Killers or The Arcade Fire doesn’t interest me at all, but I suspect would a few of my Last.fm registered friends.

I’m also glad to see that since this functionality was first iterated in a very limited fashion, it’s now possible to see past events that you’ve attended and if they’ve been covered in users’ blogs, links are dynamically generated to those reviews.

I’m very happy to note that all of this information is available via RSS feed so I don’t have to keep checking back on the Events page, but can instead see it in my preferred newsreader. Unfortunately, I can’t link to my page for you to look at as you have to be logged in to see it, otherwise the URL defaults to the Last.fm homepage. I do think this is a brilliant addition to Last.fm and really deserves to be promoted much more widely than it currently appears to be. It could really drive traffic to the service. If you don’t already have a Last.fm account – now’s the time!


iConcertCal – a gig notification plugin for iTunes

January 31, 2007

iConcertCal screenshot

iConcertCal is a free iTunes plug-in that monitors your music library and generates a personalized calendar of upcoming concerts in your city. It is available for both Windows and Mac OS X.

iConcertCal is a bit of a clumsy name, but I like the implementation. The idea of a gig notification website was something a friend and I did a little preparatory work on a few months ago. It’s a distinct gap in the market – how many times have you discovered too late that a band was playing in your local area, but the concert is sold out or it took place two days ago? How great would it be if you could visit one easy to use website, select the bands whose gigs you want to be notified of, submit your email address and forget about the whole thing until you receive an email saying that band X have announced they’re visiting your town in two months’ time and you can ‘buy your tickets by clicking on this link’. After some initial research, it turned out this wasn’t exactly an original idea and ultimately, it looked like too much work so we shelved it. None of the sites we looked at though, were as easy to use as our concept which was built around a set of expanding choices in an Ajax interface that aspired to the simplicity of the Google homepage.

These people (their About page states “We are not a company and this is not a commercial venture. We are just two grad students in electrical engineering. We wrote this plug-in in our spare time because we were tired of missing concerts for our favorite bands and we figured other people probably are too” – my hats off to them!) have taken an attractively different approach by integrating their interface into iTunes and using iTunes’ library as a basis on which to search the web for relevant listings. Very nice. Unfortunately it doesn’t list a single upcoming concert. I know I have fairly obscure music tastes, but a quick read of the FAQ revealed that it doesn’t do listings outside the US which is a great shame. Fingers crossed that the service can be extended.

Link: iConcertCal site
Via: MacUser